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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Expect the unexpected, because the NFL draft never goes according to plan.
Even the very best outside talent evaluators and most informed analysts struggle to make predictions with any certainty.
Inevitably, teams fall in love with certain prospects, trades occur and one surprise pick changes the draft’s entire outlook. Once one of those eventualities occurs, everything thought throughout the predraft process will be blown to smithereens and a butterfly effect will commence.
Since team-building isn’t an exact science, there is no specific way to fill out an entire 53-man roster and just a few out-of-the-box first-round selections can change the entire draft’s complexion.
All 32 teams bring different approaches and some are bound to make surprising decisions: Possibilities range from selecting a prospect much earlier than projected to filling a lesser need or simply targeting a position that’s already been addressed prior to the event.
Narrowing down the innumerable possibilities is impossible. As such, only a few potential first-round flash points are highlighted where organizations may go against the grain of traditional thinking.
These surprise picks will define the 2019 NFL draft in Nashville, Tennessee.
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The Oakland Raiders built an impressive supporting cast for quarterback Derek Carr. Or…have they?
Carr has been a solid, albeit unspectacular option behind center. However, the 27-year-old quarterback counts for $86 million against the salary cap over the next four seasons.
“He’s our franchise quarterback, yes,” head coach Jon Gruden said, per the San Jose Mercury News‘ Matt Schneidman, “I’ll try to make that clear.”
Circumstances change. At the very least, the Raiders organization has done its due diligence on top quarterback prospects.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson came away impressed by Kyler Murray at Oklahoma’s pro day.
“That was impressive, really impressive,” Olson told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole. “He had a great workout.”
But Murray is the favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Arizona Cardinals. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is in the mix at No. 4, though. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year had a private workout scheduled with the Raiders.
Financially, a quarterback swap makes sense since Oakland would eat only $7.5 million in a Carr trade, while last year’s fourth overall pick, Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward, made $5.3 million in his first year. Thus, the Raiders could save over $9 million against the cap while giving Gruden his preferred option.
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Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
The New York Giants have been spinning their wheels all offseason to make up for previous mistakes.
The organization didn’t place the franchise tag on Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins, who signed a six-year, $84 million contract with the rival Washington Redskins. As a result, general manager Dave Gettleman demanded the Cleveland Browns include third-year safety Jabrill Peppers in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade. With Beckham no longer on the team, the Giants signed veteran wide receiver Golden Tate to a four-year, $37.5 million contract.
Tate’s addition provides a weapon in the passing game, but he doesn’t completely solve the team’s issues at wide receiver. The Giants lack a true outside threat who can stretch opposing defenses.
Despite quarterback being at the forefront of every Giants draft conversation, the team seems content going into another season with the 38-year-old Eli Manning behind center. He needs more help, though.
Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf heads a stronger-than-expected wide receiver class with the profile to be an elite selection. The 6’3″, 228-pound target with 4.33-second 40-yard dash speed and a 40.5-inch vertical jump is an overwhelming physical presence. He’ll help open up the entire offense and allow Tate and Sterling Shepard to work underneath routes.
Gettleman already tried to cover up other poor decisions. Metcalf is the perfect move to reset and move on from Beckham.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
An NFL franchise is going to fall in love with Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. It’s inevitable.
Two quarterbacks—Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins—are treated as the only elite talents at the position, but this may very well be a three-horse race.
“Physically, he has a lot to like … an impressive combination of size (6’4″, 228 pounds), underrated mobility and a live arm,” an NFL evaluator said of Lock, per Yahoo Sports’ Terez Paylor.
Lock’s impressive arm talent and movement skills (4.69-second 40-yard dash) are only part of the equation. A franchise quarterback must have the right demeanor to become a team leader.
“Kid truly loves the game and carries himself much different than others,” another evaluator said. “He’s got a cool, calm and collected demeanor, and the AAU ball [basketball] he played growing up really helped him relate with different cultures. I think guys will naturally gravitate to him at the next level.”
The Denver Broncos’ acquisition of Joe Flacco took pressure off the organization to select a quarterback early in the draft process. His presence doesn’t prevent the team from drafting a quarterback with the 10th overall pick, though.
The 34-year-old Flacco is an ideal short-term bridge after serving the same role last season for the Baltimore Ravens, and he doesn’t have a single guaranteed dollar left on his contract.
According to Denver 9News’ Mike Klis, the Broncos will host Lock on a predraft visit. The 22-year-old prospect isn’t a polished passer—but he can learn from a Super Bowl-winning quarterback then take over the starting role once the Broncos decide to move past Flacco.
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More often than not, Florida’s Jawaan Taylor is slotted to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the seventh overall pick. The position slotting may be correct, but a different player could interest the Jaguars.
Alabama’s Jonah Williams isn’t a sexy option even among offensive linemen. As a result, he’s been mistreated through the entire draft process.
The three-year starter and two-time All-SEC performer doesn’t fit traditional standards for a top-10 pick: He’s not the biggest, longest or most athletic blocker. He doesn’t present the most upside, either. These trains of thought are how draft mistakes occur.
Williams is not a guard; he’s an offensive tackle and a damn good one. His game is predicated on what really matters: technique and skill. He’s as consistent as any prospect in recent memory, with starting experience at both right and left tackle.
The final point is especially important to Jacksonville. The Jaguars released starting right tackle Jermey Parnell earlier this offseason. Four-fifths of the team’s offensive front appears set, but a final piece is needed to keep the team’s new quarterback, Nick Foles, upright.
If Jacksonville decides it wants a lineman with more upside and power at the point of attack, Taylor will be the choice. However, Williams is a plug-and-play blocker to solidify right tackle from the moment he’s drafted. He’s not going to be overwhelmed, because he can always rely on his technique to overcome.
With Williams off the board sooner rather than later, other top offensive line prospects like Taylor and Washington State’s Andre Dillard will be pushed down the board further than expected.
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Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf isn’t the unchallenged top wide receiver prospect in this year’s draft class: Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler can make a strong case as well.
“He’s a freak show to me,’ former Iowa State teammate David Montgomery told NFL Draft Bible’s Ric Serritella. “You can’t teach that length. You can’t teach what he can do on the field. How he went out there and how confident he was every day, bringing that aura to the field and team was one of the best I’ve seen.”
Butler became only the sixth 6’5″, 220-pound wide receiver since 2010 to run a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, per NFL Network’s Ben Fennell. More importantly, the massive target knows how to use his size.
According to NFL.com’s Graham Barfield, 55 percent of Butler’s receptions gained 20 or more yards. He also led the class in yards per route and an average of 22 yards per reception (among receivers with 40 or more catches).
If quarterbacks Kyle Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock are off the board, Washington won’t be in a position to select a signal-caller who can challenge veteran Case Keenum.
Instead, the front office can do its best by surrounding the team’s new starter with an outstanding supporting cast. Butler has the potential to be everything the team originally envisioned when it used a first-round pick to draft Josh Doctson in 2016.
Granted, Butler may not be an ideal fit for Jay Gruden’s rhythm passing offense, but that’s not much of a concern since Washington’s front office only worries about talent and doesn’t take the team’s scheme into consideration.
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Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
A combination of speed and potential scheme fit has Ohio State’s Parris Campbell rising into the first round after being considered a Day 2 prospect throughout most of the draft process.
More than ever, offensive football is reliant on creating chunk plays.
The Baltimore Ravens lacked this aspect, even though a spectacular run game orchestrated by quarterback Lamar Jackson led to a playoff berth.
As a result, Baltimore decided to repurpose their wide receiver corps. Right now, that group consists of Willie Snead IV, Jordan Lasley, Jaleel Scott and Chris Moore.
Campbell automatically brings game-changing speed. The first-team All-Big Ten performer ran a 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the combine. But he’s more than a straight-line athlete. As impressive as Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf was in Indianapolis, Campbell is a better overall athlete and tested in the 99th percentile among NFL wide receivers, according to Three Sigma Athlete’s Zach Whitman.
Campbell isn’t just a height-weight-speed prospect, though; he set an Ohio State single-season record last season with 90 receptions.
Furthermore, he can become an integral part of a Ravens offense with his ability to create with the ball in his hands, as he averaged 14.8 yards after catch on screen passes, according to Bleacher Report’s Ryan McCrystal (via Sports Info Solutions). Campbell ranked seventh overall with an average of 8.9 yards after catch per reception, per Pro Football Focus.
Baltimore doesn’t need a traditional outside target; the team needs someone who can be worked into the scheme and maximize touches.
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
The Houston Texans going in any direction other than an offensive lineman in the first round after investing very little during free agency—no, Matt Kalil doesn’t count—will be the biggest surprise of the entire draft.
A potential tight end selection only adds to the confusion, even though the approach makes some sense.
The team signed free agent Darren Fells and still sports a pair of talented young tight ends in Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas. Plus, Ryan Griffin and Jerell Adams remain on the roster.
None of the aforementioned options should prevent the Texans from selecting a tight end if an outstanding talent is available. Houston utilized 12 personnel more than any other team last season, according to Sharp Football’s Warren Sharp. The Texans had a least two tight ends on the field 36 percent of the time.
The position is important to the entire offensive scheme, but it lacks a difference-maker.
Noah Fant’s skill set is unlike anything found on Houston’s roster. The Iowa product is an elite athlete, who tested among the 98th percentile for NFL tight ends, according to Three Sigma Athlete’s Zach Whitman. He’s a mismatch waiting to happen.
Fant is a move tight end who can be used in a manner of ways to complement the weapons already on the roster. Plus, he’s been well-coached by Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa staff to contribute as a blocker, even though it’s not a strong suit.
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Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
A major knee injury doesn’t derail a prospect’s future like it once did.
Jeffery Simmons looked like a future top-10 selection, despite pleading no-contest to simple assault in 2016 for repeatedly striking a woman, until he suffered a torn ACL while training for the NFL combine.
The timing of the injury is unfortunate because the Mississippi State defensive tackle won’t be ready for the start of the regular season. But an already established squad at the back end of the first round could take a chance on a top talent, who may be ready to play during the final month of the regular season.
General manager Howie Roseman reloaded along the defensive front by re-signing Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. Malik Jackson’s free-agent signing provides another option along the interior. But the group lacks a true point-of-attack nose tackle.
According to Pro Football Focus, the 6’4″, 300-pound Simmons finished third among interior defenders last season with an 11.8 run-stop percentage and finished fifth with an 89.7 pass-rush grade.
The Eagles’ defensive success is built upon attacking opposing quarterbacks in waves. However, the group is aging. Graham, Curry, Jackson, Chris Long and Fletcher Cox will be 29 or older by the end of the year.
The chance to draft a top defensive line talent at a discount price is the type of investment that will keep the Eagles’ front effective for an extended period.
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The Green Bay Packers placed themselves in a position every organization wants to be in: The franchise will enter the draft with no glaring holes and a pair of first-round picks to use.
Free-agent signings of Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos and Billy Turner addressed the team’s issues at pass-rush, safety and guard. As a result, the Packers can now let the draft come to them without forcing a pick based on significant need.
A little foresight will allow the team to address a position beyond the upcoming campaign. For example, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who has been a starter since the team selected him with a 2010 first-round pick, just turned 30 years old, missed 13 games over the last two seasons and enters the final season on his contract.
Washington’s Kaleb McGary quietly went about his business during the predraft process and may have worked his way up to a first-round prospect when the career right tackle wasn’t originally considered a top offensive line prospect.
First, McGary more than held his own at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, against the draft class’ top defenders. He then performed well at the NFL combine with top-10 performances among offensive linemen in the 40-yard dash (5.05 seconds), vertical jump (33.5 inches), broad jump (9’3″) and short shuttle (4.58 seconds).
David Bakhtiari and a healthy Bulaga form arguably the league’s best offensive tackle tandem, but the Packers have reached the point where alternatives are necessary to protect Aaron Rodgers.
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Brad Tollefson/Associated Press
The New England Patriots don’t make forced or short-sighted decisions during the draft. They’re not going to take a quarterback at the end of the first round just because they’re worried about Tom Brady’s eventual decline.
If the right prospect is available, the Patriots will select Brady’s heir apparent. West Virginia’s Will Grier has a chance to be that prospect.
Generally speaking, four quarterbacks—Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock and Duke’s Daniel Jones—are considered first-round prospects with Grier on the outside looking in, and understandably so.
Physically, the one-time Florida transfer isn’t the most impressive option. He’s not the biggest or most athletic and his arm talent isn’t as explosive as others in the class. Grier turns 24 years old before the draft as well.
Yet, he’s impressive in two vital areas. According to Pro Football Focus, Grier graded best against the blitz, with a 22-0 touchdown-interception ratio, and finished fifth in deep passing grade. Grier then “put on a show” during West Virginia’s pro day and has a scheduled meeting with the Patriots, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Grier isn’t likely to be available with the 56th or 64th picks since multiple quarterback-needy teams are in play at the top of the second round. And a quarterback selection with the final pick of the first round will provide the Patriots with the all-important fifth-year option on the prospect’s rookie contract.